Roger Cook/Pynelea Photo Bureau looks at the venerable Hercules on its fiftieth birthday
On 7 April 1955 the first production C-130A (53-3129) flew at Marietta, Georgia and, incredibly, the C-130 Hercules has remained in continuous production at Marietta for over fifty years. There are enough aircraft currently on the order books to keep Lockheed-Martin busy for the next two to three years, but with Congress expected to release further funding for more C-130Js, the production run may even reach sixty years.
The Korean war showed a need for the USAF to have a new tactical troop and cargo transport to replace the ageing Fairchild C-119, which had entered service a few months before the war started but proved to be underpowered and performed little better than the earlier Curtiss C-46s and Douglas C-47s. In February 1951 the USAF issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to Boeing, Douglas, Fairchild and Lockheed. This proposal proved to be quite daunting to these manufacturers as the RFP wanted the new aircraft to be a medium transport capable of performing both the tactical and logistical roles. As a troop transport the USAF wanted ninety men moved to anywhere in the world in 2,000 mile stages. It also required the aircraft to carry 30,000lbs of military equipment into battle area unpaved strips and have the ability to get off from mud or sand airstrips on three engines. The Lockheed design team immediately set to work and came up with the basic C-130 design and in July 1951 were declared the winners of the RFP and were awarded a contract to build two YC-130 prototypes. These were constructed at Lockheed's plant at Burbank, California but after a further contract was awarded for an initial production of seven C-130A models it was proposed that production be carried out at the newly re-opened plant at Marietta, just to the North-West of Atlanta, Georgia.
Lockheed has now produced more than 2,260 Hercules in more than seventy different variants and has delivered these to more than sixty countries. Sixty-seven counties now fly the C-130 including those that have bought used aircraft. The C-130J is the latest version to come off the longest, continuously active aircraft production line in history.
In September 2004 Lockheed delivered the first special operations variant of the C-130J, the EC-130J Commando Solo, to the 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard at Harrisburg. The 193rd is to receive three Commando Solo aircraft and two Super Js, which are standard C-130J aircraft with specialised equipment and modified for air refuelling. As of 16 April, the next aircraft to come off the line will be KC-130J aircraft for the US Marine Corps.
What follows the C-130? Well, for Lockheed-Martin at Marietta there is now a well established production line to build F-22 Raptors, but will the C-130 line ever end? Will other operators follow the USAF and Royal Air Force and simply replace the older models with more of the C-130J? In the meantime, Happy Birthday, Hercules!